April 1975: Escape During the Fall of Saigon (3)

After my escape under fire via helicopter to the flagship of the 7th Fleet, the USS Oklahoma City, on 29 April 1975, the fleet circled for some time while I slept. Then we sailed to the Philippines arriving sometime around 10 May. I booked a flight immediately for Honolulu because I knew I had to go to Pearl Harbor to brief Commander-in-Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC) on what had happened in Saigon. I knew I was sick. The whole time the 7th Fleet had been circling in the South China Sea, I was sleeping. So what was wrong with me was not simply exhaustion. Nevertheless, I tried to brief the brass at CINCPAC, largely failed, then passed out. But instead of seeking medical help, I booked a flight for Baltimore. I so yearned to go home.

The day after landing in Baltimore, I finally got to a doctor. He diagnosed me with hearing damage, amoebic dysentery, and pneumonia due to muscle fatigue, inadequate diet, and sleep deprivation. It took several months for me to recover and get back on my feet.

What I didn’t recover from and still struggle with is Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). It came not just from living through the fall of Saigon but also from all my years working with army and Marine units in combat throughout South Vietnam before the cease-fire agreement of 1973. One doesn’t recover from PTSI. One learns to cope. My hideous memories of deaths on the battlefield and atrocities during the fall of Saigon I will always have with me, but I have learned how to live with them. I’m a whole man again.

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